I, along with most everyone I know, was tuned in to the VMA's last night. Personally, I wanted to see whether the rumors were true -- would Justin Timberlake really reunite with NSYNC? -- though I was also interested in some of the other headlining performers, like Lady Gaga, Robin Thicke, and, of course, Miley Cyrus. Though many of these performances were at once fantastic, bizarre, and provocative, no one performer seems to have so infuriated and peeved viewers as much as Miley. This much was clear upon scrolling through my Facebook feed, Buzzfeed articles, and even Huffington Post articles. With all of this Miley-condemnation clogging social media outlets, I had to wonder: What is it about Miley Cyrus that so inflames our collective conscious?
Well, as was exemplified in last night's performance, she "twerks"; she sticks her tongue out; she wears revealing outfits; she breaks "conventional" standards with her behavior.
So do myriad other celebrities.
Lady Gaga spent the night in a seashell bikini top and thong. Robin Thicke's nominated video features naked models parading around him while he sings, supposedly, about rape. The top half of Selena Gomez's gown was a corset-style top. Kanye West unleashed strings of expletives -- so much so that I thought my television was malfunctioning -- all while writhing behind a screen. So why do we focus on Miley? Is she "worse," in some way, than any of these other outrageous personalities?
There is the argument that Miley is a role model to young girls, and that her new rebellious and overtly sexual persona sends a bad messages to her prepubescent fans. Well, she's no longer 12-years-old. Maybe it's the fact that she was acting like a "poser": trying to be something she's not. Many famous faces in the VMA crowd were at once mortified and stricken at Miley's attempts to "twerk" and "motorboat" -- perhaps considered implicitly off-limits for a young white female. But she's not the only one to do these things -- how about Iggy Azalea or Brooke Candy? But, then again, they never started off as sugar-sweet Disney tween sensations.
Well, critics might say, how about Taylor Swift? She was composed and elegant at last night's awards. Though she, too, has grown up in the industry, her music has matured but remained appropriately tasteful. We don't see Taylor rubbing a foam hand against her crotch, dressed only in lingerie. This apparent conundrum can be solved rather easily: Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift are different people, who are growing up in different ways. When one child follows the so-called straight and narrow, while the other veers wildly off course, does the parent respond by chastising and mocking the later child? Is it constructive? Will this child change because the authority figure in her life disapproves of the way in which she has chosen to express herself, as she stands on the precipice between her teenage years and her upcoming 20s?
The answer to my question is a complicated one, I'm sure. I think it too easy to scream "misogyny" or "double standards," as this public disgust is not directed towards all female artists, but Miley in particular. Perhaps some of us saw a bit of ourselves, or even of our children, in young, sugary Miley Cyrus, and are frightened at the prospect of our own mortality; our own capacity for radical change. Perhaps she really is a bad role model; perhaps she's really gone crazy, turning into some sort of uncontrollable slut with a propensity for scandalous behavior. Perhaps there is no clear answer. Regardless, it might behove us all to think for a moment about the motives for our "Miley-shaming" and what effects they might be having.